If you’re visiting Tokyo during the hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season, the sight of big groups of colleagues or friends gathering on blue tarps under cherry blossom trees will not escape. You probably notice that there seems to be plenty of alcohol flowing and good times rolling at those parties, so it is easy to feel a little bit left on the outside if there is just one or two of you wandering around Yoyogi Park while snapping pictures instead of joining the fun.
So what is a cheapo to do? Join this extremely reasonable opportunity at enjoying local lifestyle of course, as all that is required can be purchased for a few hundred yen in a convenience store.
And luckily there are a few ways to do just that, even if you don’t know a soul in Tokyo. Read on below on how you can find a cherry blossom viewing party to join this spring.
Facebook has several Tokyo international and expat groups that host public hanami events. Two big ones are Tokyo International Network Exchange and Tokyo International Friends, so check their pages. Please note that some groups only like to add members that permanently live here. Also, simply searching “hanami” “cherry blossom” and “Tokyo” under the events section should bring up several results, like this or this party. Most of them are taking place in Yoyogi Park, which seems to be the hub for foreigners enjoying flowers in bloom, but plenty of Japanese people also enjoy the flowers here. There are several events for people with special interests too, like this trance hanami party or this cherry blossom event by local Youtubers but open to everyone.
Check Meetup.com for international, language exchange and expat groups based in Tokyo. Most of them put on hanami events that you can sign up for on the site. A couple of examples are this and this hanami party by Tokyo Events Club. Also, checking for groups of like-minded people can yield good results, whether you are into acro yoga, World of Warcraft or anime. Your hobbymates are probably gathering in the park, so go join them!
If you are saving money on accommodation like a true cheapo and staying in a hostel during your trip to Japan, chances are staff and guests of your temporary abode will gather for a cherry blossom viewing party during the season. Check their notice board, Facebook page or website or simply drop them an email before you book to find out if they are putting on an event.
Get invited by your Airbnb host
While Airbnb is becoming a more and more impersonal affair compared to its earlier days, it can sometimes be worth asking your hosts if they are going to a hanami party and mind taking you along. Some hosts are still happy to provide a cultural experience besides just a bed, so check their profiles for hints of how sociable they are.
Hanami ground rules
If you found a party, make sure to follow the hanami party ground rules:
First and foremost, it is a sign of good manners to bring your own tarp, often called a “leisure sheet” in Japan. You can buy one for a few hundred yen at almost any convenience store or even cheaper at a 100-yen store. Also, don’t arrive too late as otherwise the party might run out of space to dock your tarp. Apart from that, March is not the warmest month yet, so the park usually gets too cold for outdoor comfort from around 5pm when the sun disappears behind the trees. Of course, bring some drinks and snacks to share with your new friends. And take your shoes off before stepping on the tarp! Just like you would when entering a Japanese home.
A final word of warning: Public bathrooms can have extremely long queues on the weekends in the most popular locations (we are looking at you, Yoyogi Park), so go before you head to the park and plan ahead for your bathroom break. Bush toilet breaks are frowned upon in Japan and generally it is too crowded to do so anyway.
And just so that we don’t leave on that unpleasant topic, here is the cherry blossom forecast for 2019. Happy hanami!
Tokyo flea markets are a great for bargain-hunting, pick up a new kimono or snag a new book on a shoestring!